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Should Toronto housing developments have more visitor parking? This councillor thinks so | CBC News

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A Toronto councillor is calling for an overhaul of visitor parking requirements at new housing developments, saying the current minimums are so low, they could have a negative impact on families and seniors.

Coun. Lily Cheng, for Willowdale, introduced a motion at last week’s council meeting, calling on staff to include visitor parking standards as part of a broader review of parking requirements set in late 2021. 

“You can’t choose where your relatives are coming from. You can’t choose where your friends are coming from,” she told CBC Toronto. “It’s not the case that everyone can take the subway to visit you…We need to ensure there’s sufficient supply in terms of fostering social connectivity.”

Cheng says she is also concerned about seniors and people with disabilities. “We’d hate to have PSWs not able to visit their clients.”

Visitor parking spots have traditionally been included in residential developments to accommodate passenger pick-up and drop-off, short term visits, deliveries and service providers.

In an effort to bring down housing costs, discourage unnecessary car use and reflect the decreasing need for automobiles in high-density areas of the city, council voted in late 2021 to eliminate most minimum parking requirements for new residential developments, like condos and apartment towers.

WATCH | The push for more visitor parking in Toronto’s suburbs:

The push for more visitor parking in Toronto’s suburbs

Some Toronto city councillors say city policies aimed at discouraging car use don’t work for the inner suburbs. They say their communities need more visitor parking at new highrise condos and apartment buildings.

Visitor parking minimums were included in the new rules, but severely reduced: Before the changes, buildings with up to 50 dwelling units had to provide at least five visitor parking spots. That dropped to just two in 2021.

Since most parking is underground, and developers would rather not dig any deeper than is absolutely necessary to keep costs down, that’s led to some questionable recent proposals, Cheng said.

One size doesn’t fit all: councillor

“I had a new application for a 44-storey condo that only included seven visitor parking spots,” she said. “I got that up to 14, but I doubt even that’s enough.”

Cheng says part of the problem is that city parking requirements for new developments apply across all neighbourhoods, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work. What’s good for the downtown core, with its relative wealth of public transit, may not be good for suburban neighbourhoods where transit is not as well developed, there are fewer public parking lots and little legal on street parking, she says.

“It’s kind of a love-hate relationship,” she said. “People want convenient parking, but they don’t want more cars in their neighbourhoods.”

Other suburban councillors are echoing Cheng’s concerns.  

“I have a term I call boyfriend parking,” said Coun. Shelley Carroll, for Don Valley North. “What happens when your casual partner comes over and they’re not going home tonight? Or mum and dad come over for the weekend. Where does that car go?”

Shelley Carroll
Coun. Shelley Carroll (Don Valley North) says people in the inner suburbs need special consideration when it comes to visitor parking in order to stay in touch with family and friends, who may not have the same access to transit that people in the core have. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

Last year, in response to concerns from some councillors, city staff launched a review of the 2021 parking minimums.

But the review doesn’t include a look at the impact of the new, lower standards for visitor parking.

“The City of Toronto is currently working on…a review of accessible parking requirements; a review of bicycle parking requirements and the establishment of a parking monitoring program,” staff said in an email to CBC Toronto.

Cheng’s motion called for the review to include a look at the impact of lower visitor parking requirements as well.  But instead of rubber-stamping that request, councillors voted to send her motion to the city’s planning committee for a second look.

Concerns may be overkill, says developer

That meeting happens early next month. If it’s approved there, staff say, visitor parking will be added to the review’s scope.

But developers say the suburban councillor’s concerns may be unwarranted — especially since the new rules were passed so recently that no buildings have actually been completed to the new parking specifications.

Richard Lyall, president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario, says the new rules give developers flexibility — something he says they need if they’re to keep costs and the market prices they charge for new housing down.

“To mandate a minimum or maximum again can backfire,” he told CBC Toronto. “Sometimes you won’t have built enough visitor parking, or you’ve mandated a number you can’t do anything with. And that drives up the cost of the project and that affects affordability.”

Richard Lyall of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario says current parking minimums should be left alone: "If it's not a problem, let's not try to fix."
Richard Lyall of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario says current parking minimums should be left alone: ‘If it’s not a problem, let’s not try to fix.’ (Laura Pederson/CBC)

Another reason developers don’t want to add any more parking than necessary is because it means digging deeper foundations to accommodate underground lots.

The deeper they dig, the more flooding issues they encounter, Lyall says. That’s another factor that drives up construction costs, which are then passed on to the consumer.

He says the best solution is the status quo. Every development, like every neighbourhood, is different, and it’s best to let developers determine how best to suit the needs of a particular market, Lyall says.

“If it’s not a problem, let’s not try to fix it.”

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